Friday, April 14, 2017

Why you must read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

The very title of this book will have a polarizing effect; people passionate about the "cause" so to speak will read it with annoying vehemence, the happy meat-gobblers among us will quite possibly smirk/scoff/shake their heads and walk away. This is a problem. Because, this is a book for both the aforementioned extremes, and all the middles. Eating Animals should be required reading for every adult.

I simply wanted to know - for myself and my family - what meat is. Where does it come from? How is it produced? What are the economic, social and environmental effects? Are there animals that it is straightforwardly right to eat? Are there situations in which not eating animals is wrong?

WHY IS THIS BOOK NOT WHAT YOU THINK?: The book features interviews of animal rights workers, farmers, owners of slaughterhouses and chicken farms, workers in these places, and government animal rights officers. Vegans, vegetarians, and meat-lovers, and undecided half-and-halfs. It's not simply a recitation of statistics and facts. It presents the whole picture from the points of view of all the arguing sides.

It must be truly difficult to write an unbiased book on a topic which you have strong opinions on. Foer achieved that in Eating Animals to an impressive extent. Most articles or documentries on non-vegetarianism and vegetarianism have been created explicitly to convert people to one side, or to defend another. The objective of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer is to start an open, non-defensive, unoffensive discourse on our diet.

Food in our society has far greater significance than as the means to survival - food is built into tradition and custom, food is family and emotion, and so, food is important. Aren't your childhood memories generously sprinkled with grandma's recipes and home-cooked meals? Its societal significance is part of the reason we are so reluctant to consider whether what we eat is actually what we should be eating. But chew on this, less than a hundred years ago, the "necessary evil" tag was also given to slavery. 

Foer tells us in no uncertain terms that it is immaterial whether we like animals, whether we eat meat, whether we are vegetarian for health or for moral reasons, whether our religion goes against the practice of meat-eating. There is something wrong in the existing system of animal farming, something that is more important than beliefs and choices. And factory farmers and animal slaughterhouses profit on our willing ignorance, our neglectful silence on the topic of cruelty in the animal husbandry.

So, as a first step in a long process, in his book, Foer has started a conversation about eating animals. He hopes that the information he has brought to light in this book will help us unite, vegetarians and meat-eaters, in changing the worst parts of the animal farming process. Eating animals may be correct, or it may be wrong, but animal farms are undoubtedly wrong. Foe shows us that we cannot ignore what is on our plates any longer, just to protect each other's egos and feelings, just in the name of tradition.

WHY IS FOER DIFFERENT FROM THE AVERAGE PRO-VEGAN-PREACHER?: For the longest time, Foer did not like animals. He found them to be a nuisance. It was when he got a pet dog that he first bonded with a vapid non-human beast. Even so, he often found the creature inexplicable and absurd. It was when he discovered that he was going to be a father that Foer first considered the possibility of being a vegetarian, as he began to wonder which tradition he would pass on to his child, as he considered the responsibility of parenthood and whether he knew enough of his own culture to educate another being in it. 

"Nothing inspires as much shame as being a parent. Children confront us with our paradoxes and hypocrisies, and we are exposed. You need to find an answer for every why - Why do we do this? Why don't we do this? - and often there isn't a good one. So you say, simply, because. Or you tell a story you know isn't true. And whether or not your face reddens, you blush. The shame of parenthood - which is a good shame - is that we want our children to be more whole than we are, to have satisfactory answers. My son not only inspired me to reconsider what kind of eating animal I would be, but shamed me into reconsideration."

HOW IS THE SYSTEM CRUEL? WHAT IS 'CRUEL'? Now, 'cruelty' might be a subjective term. So here are facts; straight-up, indiscriminately chosen by opening the book to random pages. Will you read or will you turn away?

1. Chickens are widely genetically manipulated to produce more flesh faster. The average weight of these birds increased by 65% from 1935 to 1995, while their time-to-market dropped by 60% - to understand better, imagine human children growing to be 300 pounds in ten years by eating only Granola bars. KFC chickens are almost always killed in 39 days. They're babies, that's how quickly they have grown. 

2. In cattle slaughter, the cows are first stunned with a "knocker" which hits  them right between the eyes. If knocked out too effectively, animals bleed out slower because the heart stops pumping when they die. So factories ensure that the animals remain conscious after the first hit and bleed out quickly while still alive. Such meat tastes better. The side effect is that cows often wake up during the process of slowly killing them.

3. Four out of five times a female pig will spend sixteen weeks of her pregnancy confined in a crate, where she won't be able to move. Her bone density will drop. She will be covered in multiple sores. Normally, a mother pig gives birth to only one piglet, however in factory farming, they are 'intensively bred' to produce as many as nine babies at a time. 15% of these mothers go insane. Piglets in these confinements are born with deformities. The need for the crates? Cost-effective management.

4. Did you know? Roughly 35 classified species of sea horses worldwide are threatened with extinction because they are "unintentionally" killed in seafood production? And sea horses are only one of the over hundred sea animal species which are the "by catch" in the modern tuna industry.

5. According to a report published in Consumer Reports, 83 percent of all chicken meat is infected with either campylobacter or salmonella at the time of purchase. The conditions of factory farmed animals, the filth of the factory farm, affects what ends up on our plates more than we know. An estimated 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses occur in America each year.

Cruelty is not that the animals are killed. They die natural deaths too. Cruelty is how they are killed, the extended suffering before the actual death, the sadistic treatment of animals so commonly witnessed in any factory farm (people who kill on a daily basis need to demonize their victims - many accounts in this book from workers themselves attest to the sadistic torture of animals by factory workers - urinating on chicken, beating pigs senseless, raping the cattle.) It's a lawless industry.

Cruelty is not knowing where and how our food has been. Cruelty is turning a blind eye to all of this, all of this which is done only to make that burger five dollars cheaper. 

LET'S BE HONEST, YOU'D RATHER SKIP THROUGH ALL THE GORE. All of this may be wholly unpalatable. But do it. Read the book. Because by turning a blind eye, we're not protecting out right to make our own dietary choice. We are ignoring the possibility of creating a world where we could have our cake and eat it too - a world where farming animals won't be as cruel because the consumers demanded animal protection over reduced prices. Where factory farms will be open to public viewing, monitored by cameras, because they won't dare have a hundred dead birds to hide. Read the book. Skip the bad parts if you want, read and accept and discuss and recommend the essence of it.

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